Saturday, 29 November 2014

NIGHTCRAWLER

NIGHTCRAWLER is a thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles.Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling - where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. — Written by Open Road Films

A very dark and serious thriller satire about the way TV news pursues ratings rather than accuracy in its broadcasts. Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational and rivetingly creepy in his role as Lou Bloom. The script and plot are fresh and engaging. As the story progresses the tension builds. Fortunately, the “message” of the movie stays in the background and doesn’t overwhelm the clever story which is genuinely entertaining. It’s a must see movie despite its very minor flaws.

****

Friday, 28 November 2014

NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Who's ready for a movie? Lots of new movies this week - so many, in fact, it's going to take me a week to tell you about them all! (Just joking)

TOP PICK


Top movie to go and see this week is NIGHTCRAWLER in which Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, and blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran. It's an excellent movie which makes a satirical comment on the way news media has lost its way, focusing on ratings rather than providing society with good quality news. I'll post my review shortly. In the meantime, I agree with Total Film’s Jamie Graham who says [Jake]
Gyllenhaal is sensational headlining a pitch-black satire with its finger on the pulse. Go see it!

OTHERS TO SEE


Lots of others to see...

First up, THE IMITATION GAME starring Benedict Cumberpatch and Keira Knightley. It tells the true story of English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, who helped crack the Enigma code during World War II. There's a wide range of opinions from critics. indieWIRE describes it as
... a reserved, almost conservative performance, and in holding so much back so much of the time, Cumberbatch makes his few outward displays of emotion far more impactful.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


There's quite a few movies in this category this week. First is PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR. In this spinoff from the Madagascar movies, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine from destroying the world as we know it. The general public is rating it as average but most critics are not quite that favourable to it. The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen says that, While there are plenty of madcap antics to fill a feature, all that manic energy ultimately proves to be more exhausting than exhilarating.

Next up, JIMMY'S HALL, which was part of the recent British Film Festival (BFF) here in Australia and is now being released more widely. It tells the stor of political activist Jimmy Gralton is deported from Ireland during the country's 'Red Scare' of the 1930s. I didn't mind this one when I saw it at the BFF and will post a review soon. The Hollywood Reporter’s Neil Young didn't think much of it. For him, For the first time his ongoing collaboration with scriptwriter Paul Laverty, Loach's studiously safe-hands approach -- typified by regular collaborator George Fenton's near-incessant score -- can't counterbalance fundamental screenplay flaws.

Next up: MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN attempts to tackle the contemporary issues presented by the Internet. A group of high school teenagers and their parents attempt to navigate the many ways the Internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives. While the general population think this is average fare, Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf thinks this is The first Reitman film to make the 36-year-old director seem about 400 years old. Hmmm... Doesn't sound promising.

The rather lengthily titled ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY provides some comic/family relief. Alexander's day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by more calamities. Though he finds little sympathy from his family and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him, his mom, dad, brother, and sister all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. May have had potential but The Dissolve’s Keith Phipps warns us that It's a painfully minor movie that doubles as an accidental study in how pros handle themselves when given less-than-challenging material.

ONE TO AVOID


You would think that a movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper would have to be good, right? Sadly, SERENA is nowhere near what we'd expect from these two actors. The story seems promising: In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton's timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children. According to Time Out London’s Cath Clarke We don't invest anything in either character, and with barely any tension, Serena grabs neither head nor heart. Give it a miss.

That’s it for this week. See you at the movies!

* Movie synopses are based on/adapted from IMDB. Opinions are mine except where references are provided.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

THE DARK HORSE

The Dark Horse is an emotionally-charged and inspiring drama about a man who searches for the courage to lead, despite his own adversities - finding purpose and hope in passing on his gift to the children in his community.

A very moving, genuinely inspiring story. Chris Curtis (who put on just over 27 kg to play the role of Genesis) puts in an amazing authentic performance as the NZ chess champion who is troubled by mental illness on the fringe of society, but finds a way to lead a group of young kids to New Zealand’s national chess championship, turning their lives around. The chess club he started is still in operation today and many, many children have been given hope for their futures through as a result of this true hero’s selfless commitment. Sadly, Genesis is no longer with us - but he has made a lasting impact. THE DARK HORSE is a mature movie, directed with confidence, and with a brilliant supporting cast. Don’t miss this superb movie, either in the cinemas or later when it is released on DVD.


Friday, 21 November 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1

When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol. —IMDB

The mistake this episode makes is trying to spread the last book of the series into two parts - suspiciously like trying to extract as much money from fans as they can. MOCKINGJAY Part 1 plods along for most of the movie with little substance and becomes bogged down with repetition (scene after scene has a helicopter taking off and landing - and Katniss does a lot of crying). Katniss’s character is quite weakly represented in this movie, which is disappointing given the strength she has shown in previous episodes. There are intense moments and its actors do a great job with Jennifer Lawrence, despite the insipid script, remains charismatic. But it’s essentially pretty boring. Of course, those of us who have loved the series so far (and I’m one of them) have to see this episode for completeness. So go see it, but don’t expect too much.

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION - THE BABADOOK

If you are looking for something different to watch this weekend and don’t mind a bit of psychological tension, check out THE BABADOOK. A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Brilliant movie. A dark exploration of grief, guilt, and parenting with an intelligent script that taps into our childhood fear of monsters in the dark. Essie Davis, who plays Amelia, the mother of Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is excellent as she descends into her nightmare. Noah Wiseman is astounding as the son who starts to "see” monsters in the house after his mother reads him the story of The Babadook. The tension increases inexorably but never goes too far. The director (Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the script), never succumbs to the temptation to merely cause the viewer to jump by using cheap tricks. Instead, the character and story development is what's most important. The same goes for any special effects - they're subtle and effective - what we can't see is often more frightening than what we can. The story is original and complex and provides rich material for reflecting on what people go through when they feel responsible for bad things happening to those they love. THE BABADOOK is a clever, riveting, disturbing movie - and highly recommended if you like intelligent psychological thrillers.

****1/2

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

WINTER SLEEP

Aydin, a former actor, runs a small hotel in central Anatolia with his young wife Nihal with whom he has a stormy relationship and his sister Necla who is suffering from her recent divorce. In winter as the snow begins to fall, the hotel turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities... —IMDB

Very slow - and runs for 3 hours 16 minutes! Mostly dialogue with the occasional increase in tension but consists primarily of people sitting drinking tea or wine and conversing. In my opinion, an hour or so could have been discarded. The best part is the last half hour when things pick up a bit. It’s a beautiful movie in many ways, but the pace and length will put most people off.

***

Saturday, 15 November 2014

LET’S BE COPS

Two struggling pals dress as police officers for a costume party and become neighborhood sensations. But when these newly-minted "heroes" get tangled in a real life web of mobsters and dirty detectives, they must put their fake badges on the line. —IMDB

This has to be the worst movie I’ve seen for a very long time. It is so bad, I couldn’t last more than about 20 minutes. The acting is week, the humour is not funny - it was totally boring. The sad thing is that the premise of this movie could have provided a very funny movie. But the writers clearly had no idea how to do that. There are lots of gags, but they fall flat. Give this one a miss!

*

THE DROP

Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood's past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living - no matter the cost. —IMDB

Slow burning thriller with some excellent performances, particularly from Tom Hardy. The dialogue is very good and the story and characters are highly engaging. One of the best things about THE DROP is its fresh story that mostly avoided cliche. The subtle development of the central narrative builds an uneasy sense of dread - you just know this is not going to go well. THE DROP is from the same writer who brought us Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone. Sadly, James Gandolfini, who also puts in an excellent performance, is no longer with us. Noomi Rapace is, perhaps, the weakest part of the movie who never really develops her character with much depth. Overall, this is an excellent movie.

****1/2

Friday, 14 November 2014

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2


Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and based on the book by Cressida Cowell, the action comedy tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn't exactly fit in with his tribe's longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. Hiccup's world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view. - FLIXTER

A delightful sequel. The best things about the movie are the amazing animation - the superb detail, the rich colours - the relationships between the humans and animals. The story is not as rich or complex as the first movie but there is lots of action. The dragons are beautiful and quirky and look great. If you liked the first How to Train Your Dragon, you will definitely like this one. So will the kids!

THIS WEEK'S MEW CINEMA RELEASES

Four new movies to think about seeing this week.

TOP PICK


Top of the list this week is a Turkish drama that was the winner of the Palme D'or (Best Film) at Cannes this year. In WINTER SLEEP Aydin, a former actor, runs a small hotel in central Anatolia with his young wife Nihal with whom he has a stormy relationship and his sister Necla who is suffering from her recent divorce. In winter as the snow begins to fall, the hotel turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities... (Written by Cannes Film Festival). It’s very, very long at 196 minutes. But it looks like a worthwhile movie to see if The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin is right when he describes it as ‘… a beautiful, bold, intently serious film.’


OTHERS TO SEE


I've been seeing the trailers for THE DROP for a while now. Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and the late James Gandolfini, this crime drama tells the story of Bob Saginowski who finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and becomes entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood's past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living - no matter the cost. Looks good. The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore is impressed: The city isn't the star of the film, nor is Lehane's excellent dialogue, and neither is Roskam, here making a sure-footed jump to America after his Belgian debut Bullhead. The picture belongs to Tom Hardy, whose astonishingly sensitive performance even the great James Gandolfini steps gently around.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


Yet another British comedy drama arrives, accompanied by Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith. In MY OLD LADY, An American inherits an apartment in Paris that comes with an unexpected resident. As is to be expected with this particular genre, the general viewing public don't mind it, and the critics are not quite so forgiving. According to The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth, Though Horovitz's directing is workmanlike solid, and while the movie has a certain charm that makes it easy to walk in the door, it gives you little reason to stay.

ONE TO AVOID


Just one movie to avoid this week: LET’S BE COPS. Two struggling pals dress as police officers for a costume party and become neighborhood sensations. But when these newly-minted "heroes" get tangled in a real life web of mobsters and dirty detectives, they must put their fake badges on the line. I saw this movie on one of my plane trips recently - and it is really terrible. If I get time to review it, I will, but I’d give it just 1 star and consider it an absolute waste of time. The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck agrees with me: The screenplay co-written by Nicholas Thomas and director Luke Greenfield fails to mine the potentially humorous premise for the necessary laughs, with nearly all of the gags falling thuddingly flat. Give it a wide berth.

NOTE: Movie summaries are adapted from IMDB. Comments on the movies are mine unless otherwise acknowledged.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

INTERSTELLAR

A group of explorers [all American - my only criticism of the movie] make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage. —IMDB

Wow! This is a stunning movie! The IMDB description doesn’t do it justice. INTERSTELLAR is the 2001: A Space Odyssey for this generation - and a darn sight more interesting! It’s a long movie - 169 minutes (2 hours and 50 minutes) - but that time allows for a brilliant, richly evocative, thought-provoking story to be told. And it has one of the most surprising, fresh climaxes I’ve seen in a movie for a long time.

Science fiction, at its best, should explore contemporary themes of significance to humanity - and INTERSTELLAR most certainly does that. What does it mean to be human? How will we deal with the continuing degradation of earth’s climate until humans may not be able to live here anymore? What is science? What is hope and what can we hope in? Where do humans fit in the cosmos? Does space provide another place for us?

The answer provided by INTERSTELLAR leaves any idea of god out of the equation. But the movie is shot through, ultimately, with the hope that humankind can adapt, survive, be reborn from the eschatological ashes of a doomed planet.

The music score (including pipe organs) is superb and unnerving and brings a cathedral-like atmosphere to much of the movie when it occurs in space. And, ultimately, it is love that enables the survival of humanity.

I loved this movie (can you tell)! It is profound and provocative and engaging and suspenseful and hopeful and inspiring. Go see it!

*****

PRIDE

U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984. —IMDB

It’s a surprise that this story hasn’t been told before - it is based on true events although does not tell the story accurately. The themes that PRIDE explores are significant and show some of the incredible prejudice and oppression that lesbians and gay men experienced in the 80s. It also drives home the fact that, when groups of diverse people get together and support each other, great things can happen.

However, while the themes are significant, the movie isn’t great. At times, it is hard to resist the good-natured humour and feel-good moments. But overall, PRIDE tries to pack too many stories into the one movie, follows too many characters, and eventually becomes bogged down in trying to include just about every cliche possible in a nice uplifting experience. It feels too long and at least 30 minutes of its 2hr running time could have been safely removed.

Despite it’s flaws, it does get its message across - it just could have been done in a lot better way.

Wait for the DVD.

***

NEW RELEASE DVD RECOMMENDATION

Rush to the DVD store and pick up a copy of the newly released CALVARY. After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.


The name Calvary is derived from a Latin word meaning 'skull'. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified at a place called The Skull, which is often translated in modern versions of the Bible as Calvary. The essence of the Christian story about Jesus is that he was an innocent man who suffered and died for the suffering and sins of humanity. The new movie from director John Michael McDonagh, who gave us The Guard in 2011, draws on this theme in CALVARY, starring Brendan Gleeson, who we have most recently seen as General Brigham in Edge of Tomorrow. Gleeson is sensational.

Calvary tells the story of a good-natured priest who, after he is threatened during a confession, must battle the dark forces closing in around him. Set in a small Irish village where the residents are all flawed humans experiencing immeasurable depths of emotional suffering and pain, Father James Lavelle spends his time travelling around his community trying to pastor his parishioners in what seems like an impossible project. His daughter (played by Kelly Reilly) also comes to visit and she adds to the emotional strain with her own troubled past. The whole story takes place during one week with the backdrop of Father Lavelle's anxiety at the serious threat which opens the film on the first Sunday of the story.

The first line in the movie, spoken by a parishioner (unknown to us) is shocking and is the start of the pealing back of the layers of evil and suffering in this intimate community. The parishioner who threatens the priest makes the point that killing a bad priest wouldn't have any impact. Killing a good priest will draw the required attention. And Father Lavelle is considered a good priest - despite his obvious flawed humanity.

For anyone who knows the Christian story of Jesus Christ and his taking on the suffering of humanity, CALVARY will communicate its striking story with emotional power. For those who don't, there will perhaps be less direct association of the two stories, but every one of us cannot help seeing in this movie a powerful statement of so much apparently in resolvable suffering in our world.

The choice of an "innocent" Catholic priest as the main protagonist of this story is filled with deep irony given what we now know of the evil perpetrated by some priests on young children. As Father Lavelle interacts with his parishioners over the seven days of the story, themes of life, death, suffering, evil, despair are all explored - not always in great depth, but perfused with gallows humour that, paradoxically, while we are laughing, sends an arrow of recognition straight to the heart that proves that humour can deal with the most serious of issues.

The best thing about CALVARY is the dialogue which is sharp, penetrating, and astute. This is no action movie and does, in fact, feel a little slow at times. It won't be to everyone's taste, but, in my opinion, is destined to become a classic.

****1/2

 

 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Well… hope you enjoyed the movies while I was away. Hope to catch up sometime! Here are the new movies opening this week.

MY TOP PICK TO SEE


Top of the bunch is INTERSTELLAR. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chasten, it tells the story of a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage. The general public are loving this one! According to The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, This grandly conceived and executed epic tries to give equal weight to intimate human emotions and speculation about the cosmos, with mixed results, but is never less than engrossing, and sometimes more than that.


OTHERS TO SEE


Looking for some comedy romance? Check out LOVE, ROSIE. Rosie and Alex have been best friends since they were 5, so they couldn't possibly be right for one another...or could they? When it comes to love, life and making the right choices, these two are their own worst enemies.

If you like your romance a bit more serious, maybe MY MISTRESS is for you. What starts as a beautiful and strangely innocent affair between a vulnerable teenage romantic and a French S&M mistress soon becomes more dangerous. Check out the rating before you see this one. And it’s Australian!

Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal, in TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (Deux jours, une nuit). She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Getting very high scores from the critics. For The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney,
It's enriched by signature qualities - the humanistic, nonjudgmental gaze, the absence of sentimentality, the ultra-naturalistic style - that have always distinguished the Belgian brothers' fine body of work.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

NB: synopses of movies are adapted from IMDB. Opinions are mine unless quoted from cited sources.

JOHN WICK

An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.

Little more than an excuse for extreme violence. Cliched story and characters. The titular character, John Wick, played by Keeanu Reeves, kills multiple people in every scene, primarily by shooting them in the head at close range plus just about everywhere else on the body. Not worth seeing.

**1/2